Members of Congress, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, were among those paying tribute on Thursday to Tom Lantos, the Hungarian-born California veteran lawmaker and head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who died this week from cancer at the age 80. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.
In the emotion-filled observance in the Capitol, those who worked with Lantos since he came to Congress in 1980, joined by a number of dignitaries, and Lantos' family, said his impact on foreign affairs and human rights issues will live on.
Secretary of State Rice referred to Lantos' background as a Holocaust survivor, the only one ever to serve in Congress. "Tom Lantos, who suffered from such tragic beginnings in Hungary, went on to leave an indelible mark on people's lives and on nations," she said.
A U.S. Marine honor guard presented a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol, to Lantos' wife, Annette.
In his tribute, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Lantos a dear and irreplaceable friend of the United Nations. "The leadership of chairman Lantos on challenges confronting humankind, from AIDS to Darfur, resonated far and wide because his voice had unique authority and reach. His was a voice that stemmed from witnessing the worst in man, confronted by the best in men," he said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called Lantos' death a loss for the free world and the state of Israel. "Congressman Tom Lantos was a proud American and a sworn friend of Israel, and these two things were, for him, two parts of the same complete whole," she said.
President Bush made this remark while addressing reporters at the White House on his upcoming trip to Africa. "Laura and I join all Americans in honoring the life of Congressman Tom Lantos. In his remarkable 80 years, Tom Lantos survived the Nazi camps of Hungary to reach the halls of Congress. As a representative from California, he was a fearless defender of democracy, a powerful advocate of human rights, and a strong supporter of the fight against HIV/AIDS," he said.
Also paying tribute to the lawmaker were the musician and activist Bono, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, who was also a survivor of the Holocaust.
A Nazi labor camp survivor who lost nearly his entire family during the Holocaust, Lantos was a founding member of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.
He became one of the strongest voices against human rights violators on every continent, aiming his sharp comments at governments in such places as Sudan, Iran, China, North Korea, Burma and Zimbabwe.
While often asserting that Iran was "hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons," Lantos also frequently called on Iran's government to drop their refusal to issue visas to members of the U.S. Congress to visit for talks.
Having visited North Korea, Lantos was also among the strongest voices in Congress urging the government in Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program.
Lantos was the second recent chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee to die within the past year. Henry Hyde, who led the panel under Republican House leadership for six years, passed away in 2007.